Psychology 418: Special Projects in Psychology

Psychology 418: Special Projects in Psychology


Calendar Description || Introduction || Course Materials || Course Structure || Course Objectives || Course Supervisor ||

Calendar Description

Delivery mode: Home study
Touchtone Registration course code number: 6742
Credits: 3 - Social Science
Prerequisities: SOSC 366 and permission of a psychology professor
Course Tutors/Professors: See faculty page for potential supervisors and their research interests.
Precluded course: PSYC 318

Special Projects in Psychology allows students to pursue a topic of special interest in more detail than is permitted within the standard psychology curriculum. The course is primarily intended for Athabasca University students who are in the final stages of a Bachelor of Arts program with a major in psychology. In exceptional circumstances, other students may also be permitted to take this course with permission of the professor.

Students registered in this course are required to conduct an independent empirical or conceptual research project. At the outset, students will select a topic and write a set of project objectives in consultation with their tutor. Students will then engage in activities to attain the objectives. Finally, students will submit the results of their work with a statement detailing how they have accomplished the objectives.

Students taking this course are expected to demonstrate the ability to work independently and should not expect significant help from their tutor except for approval and evaluation of the accomplishment of the objectives.

Prerequisites: SOSC 366 and permission of a psychology professor.

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Psychology 418 is primarily intended for students in the final stages of obtaining a psychology major from Athabasca University. However, under special circumstances other students may also take the course. The only formal prerequisites for Psychology 418 are a course in psychological research methods (equivalent to Athabasca University's Social Science 366) and permission of a psychology professor.

Psychology 418 is configured very differently than other Athabasca University courses. First, Psychology 418 is a flexible course that enables students to pursue topics of special interest in greater detail than is possible in AU's standard course offerings. Students take a more active role in their learning by taking responsibility for the specification of course content and pedagogical activities. This entails considerable work, but offers the potential for developing knowledge and skills in a specialized area of psychology.

Second, there are no course materials other than this web page, which is also available in the form of a printed Student Manual. Third, in Psychology 418, students are not given extensive learning assistance of the sort that normally appears in Athabasca University study guides. Fourth, students are expected to work largely independently without the more extensive telephone-tutor support that is normally provided in most Athabasca University courses. Finally, students are responsible for writing their own course objectives and submitting these for approval to their supervisor.

This page informs you about the course materials and structure, evaluation and grading procedures, and other items regarding the course.

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Course Materials

The only material for Psychology 418 that every student will use is the information you are currently reading. In this course, students are expected to make considerable use of materials such as textbooks, chapters in edited books, reviews of research, and original research in journal articles. The Athabasca University Library can be of considerable help to students seeking appropriate materials and will help students conduct literature searches. However, in order to have better access to a full range of suitable books and journals, students are encouraged to visit a larger-scale academic library such as the University of Alberta Library, the University of Calgary Library, or the University of Lethbridge Library.

The internet can provide a wealth of information for Psychology 418 projects, and our Athabasca University Psychology Resources is a good place to begin your search if your topic area is in psychology. If your topic area verges into the field of education, try Galaxy Education as a starting point.

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Course Structure

The structure of Psychology 418 is based on a set of student-written course objectives. An objective is a statement of a goal that specifies (a) an specific activity or behavior that is to occur; (b) the stimulus conditions or context in which the activity is to occur; and (c) a criterion or criteria for determining whether the activity has occurred. A well-written objective is a very precise statement that leaves no doubt about what is expected.

In preparing the course objectives students are encouraged to consult a book concerned with writing objectives. Examples include Robert Mager's Preparing Instructional Objectives and Julie Vargas' Writing Worthwhile Behavioral Objectives . Each of these books is available through the Athabasca University Library. More about writing good objectives is provided in the following section.

After students have prepared their objectives, they submit them to their supervisor for approval. The supervisor may ask that the student rewrite and resubmit the objectives. Once the objectives are approved, the student may then engage in those activities necessary to meet the objectives.

Once students feel they have engaged in the activities that meet the objectives, they will then resubmit the approved objectives to the supervisor together with a statement explaining how they have attained each objective. Aside from this statement, students will also normally submit materials to support their claims. For instance, an essay, a research report, a literature review, a set of teaching materials, and a description of a set of practicum activities (endorsed by a practicum supervisor) are all examples of such supportive materials.

After students have submitted their objectives the supervisor will grade the work. In some cases students may be asked to engage in additional activities in order to meet the objectives. The student's work will be graded based on the degree to which the supervisor feels the course objectives have been met.

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Course Objectives

As discussed above, a good objective should be one that clearly specifies (a) an activity or behavior to be performed; (b) the stimulus conditions under which the behavior is to take place; and (c) a criterion or criteria for determining whether the activity has occurred. Let us look at some examples of poor and good objectives. Consider the following objective:

I will write an essay about prompting and fading.

This is a poor objective. Although it specifies some writing activity is to take place, we do not know how much. Further, we do not know which specific topics or questions concerning prompting and fading the essay will address, and we have no criterion for determining whether the behavior has occurred or not. The following set of objectives is an improvement:

I will write an 15,000 word essay about the use of prompting and fading procedures in programmed instruction for adult students. This essay will include:

1. A partial review of the literature on this topic. This will include:

1.1. A short description of the content of each paper.

1.2. A classification of the papers into empirical and theoretical domains and into more specialized sub-topics as necessary.

1.3. An short evaluation of each paper in which I will describe what the paper contributed to knowledge of this field.

1.4. A longer description of the research methodology and/or theoretical implications and advances of five to ten papers I judge to have special empirical or conceptual importance.

2. A discussion of operant and classical conditioning interpretations of the prompting and fading process as it occurs in adult students. This discussion will include:

2.1. A diagram of the two conditioning paradigms and an explanation of each conditioning processes.

2.2. An evaluation of applicability of the two paradigms to the prompting and fading procedures used in programmed instruction for adult students. If neither paradigm is judged applicable then I may propose an alternative interpretation.

3. A discussion of the future of prompting and fading procedures and particularly their use in computer-assisted instruction.

4. The essay will follow the format of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual. The essay will also embody the principles of writing specified in the manual.

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Course Supervisor

Students in Psychology 418 are supervised by a psychology professor or a well-qualified individual designated by Athabasca University's Psychology Centre. The role of the supervisor in Psychology 418 is very different from that of a tutor in most other Athabasca University courses. The normal expectation of a tutor is that he or she be available for several hours at least once a week for student consultation. However, in this Special Projects course, students are expected to work largely on their own, with the professor's main responsibilities being the approval of the student's objectives and final assessment of the student's work.

Faculty are available to Psychology 418 students by phone or by e-mail. Use of e-mail is generally encouraged, but students should check with their supervisor to determine whether all assignments may be submitted by e-mail. Unless informed otherwise, students should submit their e-mail assignments as ASCII files, following the guidelines in the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (4th ed.), Appendix C. A list of APA Publication Manual frequently asked questions is available on the world-wide-web, as is an APA Publication Manual Crib Sheet, a concise guide to the manual.

See faculty page for potential supervisors and their research interests.

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This page was last modified on March 25, 2002.